GCBO Bird of the Month
Elegant Trogon
by Mike Williams

The Elegant Trogon, (Trogon elegans), is the only regularly occurring member of the order Trogonidae in the US, being a summer visitor to the highlands of Arizona and New Mexico, (occasionally over winters), and a rare visitor to South Texas. It is found more commonly in Mexico and parts of Central America. Four to five subspecies are recognized and worldwide there are some 39-46 species of other Trogons found in both the old and new world, (depending on authority used). There are three different sub-families existing, with 24 species in the Americas, (trogoninae), 3 in Africa (apalodermatinae), and 12 in Asia, (harpactinae). First described by John Gould in 1835 and formerly known as the Coppery-Tailed Trogon, the Elegant Trogon typically inhabits the upper reaches and canopy of both deciduous and evergreen woods in mountain regions but often moves lower in Winter.

It feeds on insects, berries and fruit and its movements are often dictated by food availability. They will often hover to feed. Trogons are secondary cavity nesters and rely on old woodpecker holes for nesting sites. These cavities are usually 12 to 40 feet above the ground and are lined with hay, straw, wool, and moss in which three to four white eggs are laid. Incubation lasts around 19 - 23 days and is performed by both sexes, with nestlings leaving the nest at around 16 days after hatching. The Elegant Trogons are monogamous and usually mate for life.

Breeding season in the US is May to August but is often weather dependent, with monsoon season playing a major factor. It’s much earlier further south from March to June.


Trogons are distinctive with a typical hunched appearance. They are typically mid-sized birds, (9 to 18 inches), and have short legs making them incapable of walking. Like woodpeckers they have two forward and two rear facing toes. They are the only order where the inner toe, not the outer toe, is reversed. Despite being brightly colored, Trogons sit very still in the upper canopy and can be difficult to observe. Elegant Trogon males have a green head and upper breast (that is iridescent in the right light), with a dark face and a yellow bill. A distinctive white breast band separates the bright red lower breast and underparts. Females are duller with gray-brown head and chest, and a much more extensive white to gray lower breast, but retaining the red belly and under parts. They both have grayish brown wings with a typical gray wing panel. The undertail is typically white with fine black barring.

Trogons can be quite vocal often calling with a gruff “K rowhrrr” several times and sometimes an extended “churrr” call.

Interesting Facts:

  • Trogon means "gnawer" in Latin and describes its heavy serrated bill.
  • Trogons have excellent vision and can see in very poor light. Like owls, they can rotate their heads almost 360 degrees.
  • Trogons are widespread and are generally not endangered although demand for their feathers to adorn ladies hats, (especially the Resplendent Quetzal), posed a threat in the last century.

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